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Small ‘People’s Convoy’ group splinters off for D.C. excursion amid continued demonstrations

Wednesday was largely the first day that some of its members ventured into downtown and the Mall

“People's Convoy” members and other vehicles travel along Interstate 395 on Monday in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Some drivers in the self-titled “People’s Convoy,” a group of truckers and others protesting the government’s response to the pandemic, splintered from the main group Wednesday and headed into downtown D.C.

The group had largely avoided the city, focusing on loops around the Beltway since arriving at the Hagerstown Speedway on March 4. But on Wednesday — much like Monday and Tuesday — the group entered the city via the 14th Street Bridge on Interstate 395 amid a near-standstill before crossing the Anacostia River and returning to the Beltway. Police have blocked interstate exits into downtown Washington each day.

Convoy leadership has increasingly voiced frustrations over D.C. police tactics. Organizer Brian Brase called the blockages a violation of their First Amendment right to protest. Police didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday but have said this week the department doesn’t comment on “operational tactics.”

Instead of announcing Wednesday’s plans publicly during a morning driver’s meeting, like usual, convoy organizers kept the plans private, saying they wanted to talk with drivers one-on-one while requesting that live-streamers avoid broadcasting the route. While the convoy took to the region’s interstates, Wednesday was largely the first day that some of its members ventured into downtown and the Mall.

Police divert ‘People’s Convoy’ from downtown D.C. during another day of demonstrations

Glenn Hopkins, 67, and his 15-year old twin grandchildren walked around the Mall among the usual tourists — one granddaughter wearing an American flag as a cape and an anti-President Biden “Let’s go Brandon” sweatshirt.

It was their first time visiting the nation’s capital. They hoped to take photos by the Washington Monument while enjoying the weather.

Hopkins, who drives a F-150 four-wheel-drive pickup truck, joined the convoy in Albuquerque last month and said he has no intentions of blocking a city street.

“We didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything looping the Beltway,” he said of why they drove into D.C. As for his plans the rest of the week? “Y’all can tell there’s been nothing organized,” he said.

“There wasn’t really a set plan,” his granddaughter Maelynn Douglas said. “We just felt like today was a nice day to come down to just spread the word.”

In addition to opposing vaccine mandates, some convoy drivers and supporters at the speedway have expressed a broad range of anti-government and right-wing grievances, including spreading misinformation about the vaccine, falsely claiming “Trump won,” referring to the 2020 presidential election; and repeating QAnon conspiracy theories.

‘People’s Convoy’ drives through D.C. after permit for organized demonstration downtown partially denied

Sara Aniano, a Monmouth University graduate student who studies the social media rhetoric of far-right conspiracy theories, watched livestreams Wednesday showing convoy members taking photos in front of the Capitol. She said she also has seen the disruptions to local residents and commuters.

“It does feel like they’re playing a big game now,” Aniano said. They’re “pushing just a little bit farther every day to see what they can get away with, and that’s worrisome, too.”

The convoy’s leadership and supporters have met with several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who visited the Hagerstown Speedway last week and rode shotgun in a truck to D.C. for a news conference.

At the group’s evening rally Tuesday night, co-organizer Mike Landis referenced Washington residents in saying the group will “keep going back every day and just annoying the crap out of them.” Driver Allen Kelly urged the convoy members to keep fighting.

“I have things from all over the country, and I know all you people do, too. … They’ve given us donations, they’ve given tears and they’ve given us their hearts,” Kelly said of the group’s supporters. “They’ve given us things from children that they wanted delivered into D.C., and I plan on doing that, at whatever cost.”

Some members of the convoy have traveled across the country to protest, beginning their journey Feb. 23 in Adelanto, Calif., outside Los Angeles.

Ian Duncan contributed to this report.